Home Others The difference between a Cheetah, a Leopard, and a Jaguar

The difference between a Cheetah, a Leopard, and a Jaguar

by Sawongam

Cheetah, Leopard and Jaguar are three big cats are superficially similar — all spotted, all gorgeous. If you see them, You might have thoughts, they all are same but actually, they aren’t, there are some significant differences in behaviour and physicality.

Cheetah (Africa, Middle East): Acinonyx jubatus

The cheetah is the only cat in its genus; it has a unique physical structure and is well-known as the “fastest land animal.” The cheetah makes its home on the African or Asian savanna or other grasslands.

Physical Identification:

  • Smaller, slighter build with a smaller head — about the size of a large greyhound or lurcher dog. Remember: these cats are built for speed and small prey
  • Spots are “thumbprint” type — imagine dipping your thumb in ink and dabbing it all over the animal
  • Face looks more like a kitten’s, and is uniquely identifiable by two long black “tear tracks” coming down either side of the nose
  • Unlike other cats, cheetah cannot retract their claws up into their paw pads; they are always exposed
Cheetahs have blunt, semi-retractable claws that... - The ...

Behavioural Identification

  • Hunts small prey in grasslands
  • Hunts only during the day
  • Very skittish of other cats/predators (they’re too small to fight off a lion!)
  • Become accustomed to humans much more quickly/easily
  • Younger cats may be seen in small groups (“bachelor herds”)

Killing Style

  • Hides in the long grass then chase
  • Prefers to run its prey down and kill with a bite to the throat
  • NOT interested in putting up a fight; will quickly abandon a kill if larger predators arrive

Primary Advantage: Speed


Leopard (Africa, Middle East, Asia): Panthera pardus

The leopard is one of the most widely-distributed cats in the world, ranging across nearly three continents. These skilled hunters can be found in grasslands, jungle, and near human settlements

Physical Identification

  • Stocky build with strong musculature, about the size of a young bear — this is an animal built for carrying heavy prey up into trees
  • Spots are “rosette” type — imagine bunching your fingers up together and dipping them in ink, then “stamping” all over the animal
  • Head is fatter and heavier, like a lion’s or jaguar’s with strong jaws and typical “wild cat” look
  • Tail either spotted as rest of the body or light-tipped

Behavioral Identification

  • Hunts small and medium/large-size prey in woody grasslands and sometimes forests
  • Prefers to hunt during the night
  • Uses trees as a territorial defence (esp. to escape larger predators — e.g. lions)
  • Does NOT become accustomed to humans quickly/easily — very elusive
  • Excellent camouflage; they are the “shadow cat” — can be 10 ft away and you still don’t see them
  • Very solitary — only mother + cubs spend long periods of time together

Killing Style

  • Prefers to stalk and ambush
  • Attacks the throat to kill/throttle quickly
  • NOT interested in putting up a fight against larger predators (e.g. lions) but does not like to abandon a kill, and so usually retreats with its meal (often to the trees)

Primary Advantage: Stealth, Strength


Jaguar (South America, Central America, North America): Panthera onca

Leopard on Brown Log

The jaguar is the largest cat of America; it is a renowned, stealthy hunter that prefers forest cover to attack and kill medium/large prey.

Physical Identification

  • Stocky build with strong musculature, about the size of a young bear — this is an animal built for carrying heavy prey up into trees
  • Spots are “dirty rosette”
  • Head is sleek and heavy, like a lion’s or leopard’s, but a bit more proportionate — still has that typical “wild cat” look
  • Tail is often darker at the tip


Behavioural Identification

  • Hunts small and medium-size prey in forests
  • Prefers to hunt during the night
  • Uses trees as territorial defense and for ambushing
  • Does NOT become accustomed to humans quickly/easily — very elusive
  • Excellent camouflage; they are the “shadow cat” of the Americas — can be 10 ft away and you still don’t see them
  • Very solitary — only mother + cubs spend long periods of time together

Killing Style

  • Prefers to follow + ambush from the trees
  • Kills with a bite to the back of the neck, breaking the neck

Primary Advantage: Stealth, Strength


The very main difference between the cheetah, jaguar and leopard is the pattern of spots present in the body of the respective animals. In cheetahs, evenly spread simple spots are present, whereas in Jaguar, smaller spots inside the polygon rosettes will be present and in case of leopard, they will have smaller and round rosettes than those of jaguars.

In terms of muscular strength, leopards are larger and much more muscular comparing to cheetahs, but at the same time, slightly smaller and more lightly built if compared with jaguars.

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